20. Gaudi

Today has been an absolutely perfect day. We had a truly delicious breakfast here at the Hotel Mercer. Fruit salad and bacon and eggs. We are having two meals a day - neither of us are big eaters, and it's working well.

We witnessed a huge demonstration about Catalan independence (for and against) as today is a national holiday. We visited Mount Juic with views over the whole of Barcelona, admired the Miro Foundation and the saw National Catalanian Art Museum building.

We saw Parc Guell, a failed housing development created by Gaudi in co-operation with his benefactor, which became a city park. A double-decker tourist bus took us back to the city to see Casa Battlo. Then a long walk home in the cool of the evening, stopping off at shops here and there. A perfect dinner at a restaurant not one minute from our hotel, in a lane where no tourist would ever find it. Perfecto!

I had not realised the scale of some of Miro’s work. Photos were not allowed inside. Weavings metres tall with massive protrusions, huge sculptures…

This woman was so passionate about Catalanya NOT becoming independent from the rest of Spain, and was showing her solidarity with her frieds at the rally in the Placa de Catalanya. She hugged me and pinned her badge on my chest. And there were many with their yellow and red striped flags who are equally emotional about being freed from the power of Madrid. To be honest we found it hard to tell the difference between the supporters and those against. Their flags are similar. See my badge has a red strike through it? Against.

Tonight for dinner the doorman walked us around to PLA, a local restaurant which was booked out. Fortunately Barcelona doesn’t come alive until 10pm and so we were seated at the only spare table, provided we were out by 10. Firstly an amuse bouche of corn and coconut soup with coriander oil. Cally had aged sirloin steak with menthol potatoes (which meant something quite appealing and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was and it’s too late to ring Cally and ask her), red wine sauce and crunchy onions. I had sliced pork loin on a bed of cauliflower puree with a hint of ginger and lime, and mustard sauce. A green leaf and endive salad with walnuts as a side. With a white wine from the Catalan Pyrenees. The whole meal was totally perfect, right down to the waiter who brought a chair to our table and described the menu with all the passion that Gaudi had for his architecture.

There was one reason I added Barcelona to this itinerary. After a lifetime of hearing about Gaudi and his work, I wanted to see it for myself. I also wanted to see the other modernist architecture here. Experts have written thousands of words about this subject. In no way am l qualified to write about it. I can only tell you what I feel. I woke this morning with Gaudi swimming in my dreams.

The man was a genius. An utterly amazing, perfectionist, laterally thinking, creative, one-in-a-trillion genius. His work made my heart sing. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

To complement his genius, he found men with the wealth to indulge his dreams. It takes little to support a writer, or a composer, or an artist. Accommodating an architect takes real wealth. Particularly when the architect is someone whose plans involve the unheard-of shapes, lines, new materials; the exactitude and uniqueness of Gaudi.

His combination of gingerbread house playfulness, beautifully sinuous curves, organic shapes, concentration on ergonomics and engineering skill left both Cally and I speechless. We just looked at each other and shook our heads. Unbelievable.

We saw his work outside and inside La Pedrera (also known as Casa Mila) and Casa Battlo, and at Park Guell as well as several other buildings from the street. Tomorrow we will see the masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.

Gaudi and our young guide are intertwined in my mind. Below, meet Santiago Mercader Saavedra. Santi is a Doctor of Art History and one of the most remarkable young men I have ever met. I don’t say that lightly. When he speaks of Gaudi, his face lights up, his hands fly expressively, he rapid-fire delivers the most passionate, informative, and captivating speech you could ever imagine.

He has more passion for his subject in his little finger than most people have in their whole body. For nearly 4 hours our attention didn’t waver for a second. See those expressive hands? Totally captivating.

I could write and analyse for a lifetime and never finish. Instead, I’ll let the photos tell the story. First, Casa Battlo, perhaps his most famous house, by day.... It's owned by a private family. Yes, a private family.

and by night....

those three dimensional tiles! repeated throughout the house in varying shades of grey and blue. I loved the grey ones in the entry.

The windows with all their beautiful shapes. This one quite took my breath away...

a shape on a ceiling...

Everything is rounded and beautiful to the touch. The oak bannisters invited the hand, the handles are so wonderfully conceived, and comfortable to pull with right or left hand.

In Catalan/Spanish this is called 'trencadis' or broken pieces...

The security barriers around the rear terrace are a work of art in themselves..

There are two voids in the house which are a delight...

Gaudi's roofs are works of art themselves - used for drying clothes, but always playful.

And Casa Mila, a masterpiece as well. None of the walls are load-bearing. It is supported by columns and curved iron beams. It was also remarkable at that time for having an underground car garage.

Casa Mila or La Pedrera (the quarry) is made of stone with iron balustrading on the balconies, counterbalanced by those sinuous curves, and and a beautifully soft palette of colours which appear as frescoes but which Santi said were applied in some other way. They are as lovely today as they were the day they were applied. The voids were painted with smudgy purplish blue strokes worked into the surrounding neutral colour.

And Parc Guell. This was a collaboration between Gaudi and his benefactor, . It was supposed to be very upmarket housing within a green space, but in the end only two houses were built. The bourgeoisie didn't want to move to this outer suburb, and the space was eventally given over to the city as a park. It's a gingerbread fantasy land which draws thousands of people each day.

This is the doorman of Casa Battlo - we wanted to go back inside after we left, and he put green stickers on us to indicate we had already paid. We stuck them back on him when we came out. He was a good sport.

I can't carry any more weight, but I intend to order this book when I go home. I would love to know more about this man than the myths and legends about him.

The cathedral of Barcelona in the evening light as we walked home.

and inside the cathedral earlier in the day

And a beautiful detail on the facade of a building. Just one of so many.

I wrote this last night (Monday) and got up early to finish it this morning. It's nearly breakfast time. Today we have a huge day. A 3.5 hour tour this morning with an interior designer who runs specialist bespoke antiques and boutiques tours, a visit private club for lunch, the Sagrada Familia visit, and then a concert at the Palau Musica. If it is half as good as today, it will be brilliant.

I may not be able to post after I come home, as it will probably be too late, but I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Hope you are all well and enjoying Barcelona.

Hasta pronto amigos!